By Pat Caldwell and
For days, Sgt. Bob Speelman and Det. Dan Perkins of the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office had been trying to catch a fugitive who was on the run to avoid arrest for child sex abuse charges.
Douglas R. Villines, 42, was considered dangerous. He already had served several prison terms, including one for an earlier child abuse conviction. Now, Malheur County prosecutors wanted the Nyssa man on new charges he sexually abused a 10-year-old Nyssa girl last fall.
Villines had eluded arrest for weeks as police chased leads and batted down false tips that Villines had fled to Arkansas.
Speelman’s hunch and a damaged Impala last week brought to an end one of the most intense manhunts in recent times in Malheur County.
Villines is now in the Malheur County Jail, held on $500,000 bail and facing a string of charges. He is scheduled to enter his plea on Thursday, Feb. 15.
This account of his capture is based on interviews with law enforcement officials and witnesses and on public court records. Villines’ case drew unusually high public attention as “keyboard warriors” joined the virtual hunt for the Nyssa man and word of his suspected crimes spread.
Villines knows the feel of handcuffs.
A native of Payette, he has been arrested repeatedly in Idaho and Oregon over the past 20 years for crimes such as grand theft, assault and sex abuse. He has served sentences in state prisons in both states, most recently leaving South Idaho Correctional Institution on April 4, 2017.
Until recently, he lived in a Nyssa RV park with his wife, Leslie, and her children. Whether he held a job or otherwise supported the family couldn’t be established, but Villines last fall once again found himself the focus of police attention.
A 10-year-old girl told authorities that Villines had sexually abused her over three days last October while her mother was at work. Her mother, the girl said, didn’t believe her.
A Malheur County grand jury indicted Villines in December on three counts of first-degree sex abuse, two counts of first-degree attempted rape, two counts of unlawful penetration, and one count each of first-degree sodomy and failing to report as a sex offender.
Amanda Benjamin, Malheur County deputy district attorney, recounted in a subsequent court filing is criminal record, how he had evaded arrest on other charges a decade earlier, and he should be considered “a danger to the public.”
On Jan. 10, the Malheur County Sheriff’s Office went public with its pursuit of Villines, posting information about his warrant on Facebook and asking the public’s help. A Malheur Enterprise story the next day was widely read and shared online, reaching more than 100,000 people and triggering one tip after another to authorities about where to find Villines. Tipsters said he was in Weiser, then in Fruitland and even Arkansas. The same day police took to Facebook, someone posted a photo on Villines’ own page: “Welcome to Arkansas.”
That made sense to police because they had traced Villines there in 2007, returning him to face the child abuse charges that sent him back to prison. But investigators considered the latest Arkansas reference a feint to send police looking in the wrong place.
Speelman, a 20-year veteran of the sheriff’s office, had been working long hours to find Villines. He and his team checked leads in Nyssa, Ontario, Fruitland and Weiser.
Then, on Tuesday night last week, Speelman caught a break. The High Desert Task Force received a tip that Villines’ wife, Leslie, was on the move. Task force officers found her in Ontario and began to discreetly follow her.
She crossed the river into Idaho, drove north through Weiser and then headed out into the country.
Speelman, concerned he would be spotted on a near empty rural road, stopped the tail. But he suspected that the wife who had been defending her husband on social media had been heading to his hideout.
By then, local police had high-powered help -- the Greater Idaho Fugitive Task Force, run by the U.S. Marshals Service.
Speelman had asked for the help from the federal marshals, legendary for tracking and catching fugitives.
“On some of the higher-profile cases we will ask the U.S. Marshals for help,” said Speelman.
Paul Baxley, chief deputy U.S. marshal in Boise, said the Oregon U.S. Marshals office asked the Idaho task force to join in.
“They looked at the case and because Villines was such a violent offender, adopted the warrant. Due to geography and the location Villines was most likely in, Oregon submitted a collateral lead request to Idaho in Boise.” Baxley said.
The fugitive task force at about 6 a.m. Wednesday gathered in the Washington County Sheriff’s Office in Weiser. Besides deputy marshals, the team included officers from the Ada and Canyon County sheriff’s offices and the Boise, Nampa, and Garden City police departments. Officers from the High Desert Task Force were there too.
Speelman and a deputy U.S. marshal then headed north on U.S. 95, winding through the cow-and-hay country to follow up on a tip that Villines might be in Midvale.
The tip didn’t pan out and on his way through the community of Mann Creek that afternoon, Speelman glanced over at a farmhouse he had passed earlier. This time, he spotted the clue he needed – a gold Impala with obvious damage.
The find was significant because just weeks earlier, Leslie Villines had been driving that car when she got in a collision, police had been told.
Speelman was certain they had their man.
He called for backup from the fugitive task force at work 10 miles away in Weiser.
The federal task force members had started re-interviewing Villines’ friends and relatives – “just plain old-fashioned police work” is how Baxley puts it.
“We talked to a guy that told us he recognized Villines, but that he was not using that name,” said Baxley.
Then, Speelman called in with news that he had found Villines’ car.
The day had been quiet at the Mann Creek Country Store when kitchen manager Jennifer Eakins noticed something odd – the men’s bathroom was suddenly busy.
She stepped outside.
“There were a lot of cops out there,” Eakins said.
Police had chosen the store parking lot to stage and prepare to move in on the farmhouse.
“They said, ‘We are after a really bad guy,’ “ Eakins said.
Speelman meantime had driven to a hilltop across from the farmhouse to monitor. He was joined by Ben Esplin, an Ontario Police Department officer who is part of the High Desert Task Force. A deputy U.S. marshal set up an observation post on the back side of the two-story gray house that sat just off U.S. 95, next to a barn and piled hay bales. Nobody seemed to be around, but police thought chances were good Villines was inside
At about 5:30 p.m., the fugitive task force made its move, pulling into the yard with lights and sirens going.
A neighbor across the street who asked not to be identified watched the arrest unfold.
“There were cop cars in the driveway of the house across the street everywhere,” she said. “Cops were running around and had their guns drawn. One came over and told me to stay in my car until it was safe.”
She heard police using a loudspeaker to tell Villines to come out. She said they kept telling him his family was worried about him and to make it easy on everyone.
Baxley said the task force was “confident” Villines was inside but he never answered the loudspeaker calls. They kept at it for about an hour.
As darkness fell, police summoned the property owner to get a front door key, but he couldn’t respond for hours. Task force members instead battered down the door and swept inside to find Villines.
They found him – in a storage closet beneath a staircase, tucked behind a stack of boxes arranged like a wall. He gave up without a fight. Police later determined his wife had rented the house.
Baxley said Villines’ appearance had changed from photos police had. While not disguised, Villines was thinner and gaunt, Baxley said. He was also dirty, looking as though he hadn’t slept in days.
“I had to use tattoos to make sure we had the right guy,” said Baxley.
Villines apparently had kept out of sight, for he wasn’t recognized by people at the store or by the neighbor across the streets.
“I had never seen him over there,” the neighbor said. “I had not seen anyone around the house for a long time. This is pretty big happenings out here, I mean, nothing happens out here.”